Trump Organization Executives Face Federal Campaign-Finance Probe

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are probing whether anyone within the Trump organization violated campaign-finance laws in connection with the Michael Cohen case, according to Bloomberg, citing a person familiar with the matter. 

The Federal prosecutors are operating on a "parallel track" to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Mueller has been referring various aspects of his investigation to appropriate counterparts within the Department of Justice. 

Among other crimes, Cohen admitted to violating campaign finance laws. He acknowledged that he paid off a woman who claimed to have had an affair with the president, saying he did it at the direction of the candidate himself and that Trump’s company then repaid him. Notably, the president said the next day that Cohen’s acts weren’t a crime. Whether others in Trump’s orbit were complicit -- steering money to benefit his campaign without making proper disclosures or by exceeding federal limits -- is not yet clear. No one else has been charged. -Bloomberg

Trump's organization consists of several private companies heavily invested in real estate - run by the President's sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. since he took office. 

Central to the investigation is thought to be longtime CFO Allen Weisselberg, who was granted "limited" immunity by US prosecutors, and who has already provided "narrow cooperation" with federal authorities regarding Cohen's activities and hush agreements, according to Bloomberg's source. 

During Cohen's indictment, prosecutors claimed that two Trump company executives - one of whom is thought to be Weisselberg - approved improper payments in violation of campaign-finance laws. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, Weisselberg coordinated the Trump Organization's reimbursement of Cohen's $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford). Weisselberg didn't know what the payment was for, according to the Journal, citing "a person familiar with the CFO's thinking," when he agreed in January 2017 to pay Cohen $35,000 per month "pursuant to retainer agreement." 

That month, according to charging documents filed Tuesday, Mr. Cohen gave executives at the Trump Organization a copy of the bank statement from his bank account for Essential Consultants LLC, the company he used to pay Ms. Clifford the previous fall. The statement reflected Mr. Cohen’s $130,000 payment to Ms. Clifford, as well as an additional $50,000 that Mr. Cohen added in handwriting was for “tech services.”

Executives at the Trump Organization “ ‘grossed up’ for tax purposes” Mr. Cohen’s requested reimbursement, doubling it to $360,000, and added a $60,000 bonus, the document said. The next month, one executive at the company asked another executive to pay Mr. Cohen’s monthly retainer “from the trust” and to “post to legal expenses.” -WSJ

Weisselberg was called to testify earlier this year before a federal grand jury, according to the Journal's previous reporting. 

Weisselberg has already been interviewed by the New York Attorney General’s office as part of the state’s investigation of alleged improprieties at Trump’s charitable foundation. The attorney general filed a civil suit against Trump and three of his children in June claiming that they treated the charity like a “piggy bank” and that at least $2.8 million in charitable funds was directed to the 2016 campaign. The Foundation has denied the allegations and said the suit was politically motivated. -Bloomberg

Cohen faces five years in prison for five counts of tax evasion and one count of bank fraud unrelated to Trump or the 2016 campaign. He also faces two counts of campaign finance violations involving payments to Stephanie Clifford (Stormy Daniels) and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.